Barack Obama Signs 9/11 Health Care Bill

NEW YORK | Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 6:54pm EDT

President Barack Obama today signed into law an aid bill giving federal health benefits to first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Obama signs 9 11 health bill 01

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 847, the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act” in Kailua, Hawaii, Jan. 2, 2011. Photo: Pete Souza/The Official White House via Flickr

President Barack Obama signed the 9/11 health bill into law on Sunday, White House spokesman Bill Burton said. Obama signed the bill during his Hawaiian vacation. No signing ceremony was held.

“On Sunday, January 2, 2011, the President signed into law: H.R. 847, the ‘James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act,’ which establishes the World Trade Center Health Program and extends and expands eligibility for compensation under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001,” the White House said on Sunday in a press release.

The $4.3 billion bill became a major point of contention in the waning days of the Congressional session. Republican senators blocked a more expensive House version, and as it appeared that the measure was going to die, the comedian Jon Stewart took up the cause, using his Comedy Central tv program to advocate passage.

At least, the Senate approved the less expensive measure and the House quickly followed suit, then they sent the bill to the president.

The bill made a long journey in order to get signed. A printed copy of the bill flew with a White House staffer from Washington to the Hawaiian island of Oahu, so Obama could sign it from his vacation rental in Kailua. “It came out with a member of the staff so that it could be signed in a timely fashion,” Burton said.

The legislation, officially titled the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, provides health coverage to first responders to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, who have been battling for federal help for years. It also reopens the federal Victim Compensation Fund to provide economic relief to those harmed by the attacks.

After a contentious battle in which some Republicans suggested the legislation was creating a new entitlement program, it finally passed during the lame-duck session of Congress in December.

New York lawmakers hailed the bill’s signing. “After a long, arduous path with several near-defeats, this bill is finally law,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

“The heroes who rushed to Ground Zero in the hours and days after the attacks will not be forgotten. These first responders were like veterans, and this law keeps with a time-honored tradition of standing by our veterans when they get harmed answering the call. We will begin work immediately to make sure this law gets renewed for another five years.”

“Today, nine years after the devastation of 9/11, the United States has honored its obligation to the heroes and survivors of 9/11,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and one of the authors of the bill, said in a statement.

“With President Obama’s signing of our bill … it is clear that the government has not forgotten the thousands who have served and suffered.”

Rep. Peter King, R-New York and another bill author, said the law “is a great victory for the heroes of September 11th, the firefighters, police officers and construction workers. Justice is finally being served. A great day for America.”

“At long last, the president’s signature has ended our nine-year struggle to address the 9/11 health crisis,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, and another author of the bill, said in a statement.

“The Zadroga law will save lives and fulfills our moral obligation to care for those who rose to the defense of America in a time of war.”

Maloney’s statement compared the law to the War Hazards Compensation Act of 1942, passed in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which provided health care and financial relief to to civilians who assisted in recovering the bodies of the dead and salvage the remnants of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. .[via NY Post, USA Today and CNN]

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